Toasted Barrel Finished Kentucky Straight Rye
Many brands in the past decade or so have been finishing their whiskies in lightly toasted barrels. Compared to new charred oak, the uncharred toasted barrels tend to increase the vanillin content of the whiskey and bring some complexity to the palate.
Adding this element to rye is definitely fun and interesting. Mellows some of the spice in favor of more fruit and brings unexpected flavors to your more traditional rye mashes. Very grateful to try this sample of Michter’s rye expression.
Details on Michter’s products are lacking overall. No age statement and no finish length designation. I’m unsure if this is a single-barrel product as well. The front label says distilled in small batches with the serial number of the finishing barrel. The back label also mentions they finish their “Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey”. All I can be certain of is this was bottled in 2020 at a proof of 106.8°. I sampled side-by-side with a pour of Michter’s Barrel Strength Rye.
The nose is unusually fruity with bold tropical notes that I did not expect. Pineapple, plums, dried papaya. There’s a starchy banana-like aroma that reminds me of fried plantains dusted in cinnamon sugar. Cashews and macadamia nuts. An exotic blend of fruit and nuts. Rich rye grains still come through with a corn syrup sweetness like honey-glazed biscuits. Dilution brought out these lactic qualities to the whiskey. Shelf-stable milk products like powdered milk and sweetened condensed milk. Vanilla is obviously notable and when combined with the lactic notes, it reminds me of white chocolate almost.
On the palate, the rye comes through with intensity. Much more so than on the nose, it’s undoubtedly rye. The flavors seem very focused if a tad one-dimensional. Caramel apples with cinnamon and clove spices. Black tea, which I love to taste in ryes. The lactic quality is there as well and I’m still attributing this white chocolate note to the toasted oak. Water evened out the texture a bit for me. Each sip continued to produce a sugar substitute flavor like sucralose. Finally, some dry tobacco notes were noticed on occasion.
Leather, cocoa nibs, and stale tobacco flavors dominate the finish. All of the complexity of this whiskey comes on the back end bringing a pleasant bitterness to the experience. Dark chocolate now instead of the sweet tooth palate flavors. Stale pipe tobacco in a leather carrying pouch. An industrial moment with this whiskey as I tasted leather shoe laces and cotton swabs oddly. Toffee and almond brittle candy. Lastly, a wonderful fresh pulled espresso with a dusting of nutmeg.
This was a fun whiskey. I thoroughly enjoyed this tasting and exploration of the flavors. However, my personal preference would stick with the barrel-strength rye for one main reason. The rye spices were a bit lost on the toasted finish.
Having a dram of it to compare, it was immediately noticeable that the rye character faded into the background. Not a bad thing, just something I made a point of when analyzing the toasted finish. It’s difficult to tell these are even the same two whiskies initially because the toasted finish brought out so much character. Both are very good, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone told me they disliked one vs the other.
Having said that, I would happily buy both. They are distinctly their own products and both are delicious. I’m not a toasted finish fan typically but this was well worth it.